Mother of Michigan school shooter testifies it was her husband’s responsibility to store son’s gun

Feb 1, 2024, 4:40 PM

Jennifer Crumbley has pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the ...

Jennifer Crumbley has pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the mass shooting at Oxford High School in November 2021. Mandatory Credit: Mandi Wright/Pool/Detroit Free Press/AP

(CNN) — Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the teenager who killed four people at a Michigan high school in 2021, took the stand in her manslaughter trial Thursday and testified it was her husband’s responsibility to store their son Ethan’s gun safely.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable being in charge of that. It was more his thing, so I let him handle that. I didn’t feel comfortable putting the lock thing on it,” she said.

Her husband, James Crumbley, and their son bought the 9 mm gun on Black Friday while she was out shopping, she testified.

She said she has not spoken to her husband since the day of their arrest on December 4, 2021, four days after the shooting. She also acknowledged she had been in an extramarital affair for about six months leading up to the shooting, but she said she did not believe it affected her parenting.

The key testimony comes as part of Jennifer Crumbley’s trial on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the November 30, 2021, mass shooting at Oxford High School, which left four students dead and seven others wounded. Her husband is scheduled to go on trial on the same charges in early March.

The prosecution rested its case Thursday after about a week of testimony from shooting victims, law enforcement officials, school officials and those who knew Jennifer Crumbley. The prosecution has used an unusual and novel legal theory by arguing she is responsible for the deaths because she was “grossly negligent” in getting a gun for her son and failing to get him proper mental health treatment despite warning signs.

However, the defense argued in opening statements that the blame lay elsewhere: On the husband for purchasing the firearm and encouraging the hobby; on the school for failing to notify her about her son’s behavioral issues; and on Ethan himself, who actually pulled the trigger.

Until Thursday, the jury had heard only some of Jennifer Crumbley’s perspective during the trial. In Facebook messages she sent to an extramarital lover shortly after the shooting, she wrote, “I failed as a parent. I failed miserably.”

On the stand Thursday, she explained that message further. “I don’t think I’m a failure as a parent, but at that time, I guess I didn’t see – I felt bad that Ethan was sad at those things and I guess I just – I felt like I failed somewhere.”

“As a parent you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers,” she testified. “You never would think you have to protect your child from harming someone else. That’s what blew my mind. That was the hardest thing I had to stomach was that my child harmed and killed other people.”

Yet she had no regrets. “I’ve asked myself if I would have done anything differently, and I wouldn’t have,” she said.

Still, she said she wished everything had gone differently.

“I wish he would have killed us instead.”

The prosecution’s cross-examination is set to begin Friday morning.

Mother says she did not know about son’s mental health issues

Overall, her testimony on Thursday focused on portraying her as a regular mother who balanced a full-time marketing job with taking care of the house, playing board games with her son and traveling on family vacations. She trusted her son, she said, and did not go through his text messages.

“I thought we were pretty close. We would talk. We did a lot of things together. I trusted him, and I felt like I had an open door and he could come to me about anything. I felt as a family the three of us were very close,” she said.

Jennifer Crumbley testified her son had never asked her to get help for mental health issues, contrary to his private journal writings and texts to a friend. She said he expressed some anxiety about taking tests and what he would do after high school, “but not to a level where I felt he needed to go see a psychiatrist or mental health professional right away.”

She acknowledged her son had sent a number of texts about seeing ghosts and claimed their house was haunted, but she testified he was not being serious.

“It was just him messing around,” she testified.

She also testified she did not know about internal school emails discussing her son’s concerning behavior before the shooting. She said if she had known, she would have been concerned and spoken to him.

She did receive a voicemail from a school administrator stating that her son had been looking at bullets in class on November 29, 2021, the day before the shooting. However, she said the administrator sounded “upbeat” and noted her son apologized and took accountability.

On the morning of the shooting, she and her husband were called into the school to meet with their son and two school employees about Ethan’s disturbing writings on a math worksheet, including the phrases “blood everywhere,” “my life is useless” and drawings of a gun and bullet.

She said she was “concerned” about the drawings and believed they were a form of rebellion because his parents had told him the night before that he couldn’t go to the shooting range due to his poor grades. Yet the meeting with the school was “nonchalant” and “brief,” she testified, and the group agreed to keep Ethan in class for the day.

“We agreed that it might stress him out more to do his school remotely the rest of the day. But there was never a time where I would refuse to take him home,” she testified.

Unbeknownst to those in the meeting, Ethan Crumbley had hidden a firearm in his backpack. Later that day, he took the gun out and opened fire on his classmates.

How she responded to the shooting

Further, Jennifer Crumbley told the court about how she learned about the shooting and how she responded.

When she heard there was an active shooter at Oxford High School she left work and joined a caravan of law enforcement vehicles heading that way.

“My husband had called me when I was still at work and he said there was an active shooter at the school and ‘I can’t get a hold of Ethan,’” she said. She then opened her phone and saw her son had sent a text saying “I love you,” which she thought was abnormal.

Her husband called again and said that Ethan’s gun at home was missing. Using talk-to-text, she sent a message to her son saying, “Ethan don’t do it,” because she worried he was suicidal.

“I didn’t think he shot anyone,” she testified. “I thought he was going to kill himself.”

After the shooting, she said she reluctantly turned her phone over to police, bought burner phones and took out cash from the bank. Scared of harassment or worse, she and her husband fled their home and stayed at a hotel and then a friend’s art studio outside of town, she testified.

They were supposed to attend an arraignment on December 3 after being charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, but they missed the arraignment, making them fugitives and setting off a search. They were apprehended in the early morning hours the next day in the art studio.

They did not turn themselves in because “we didn’t feel it’d be safe,” she said.

Ethan, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, has pleaded guilty to one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of murder and 19 other charges related to the deadly rampage. He was sentenced last year to life in prison without parole.

For his part, Ethan said at his sentencing hearing he did not tell his parents about the plan beforehand, “so they are not at fault for what I’ve done.”

The defense had sought to call him and two jail psychiatrists to testify, but the shooter’s attorneys said they planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to silence, so the judge overseeing the trial ruled Thursday they will not testify.

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Mother of Michigan school shooter testifies it was her husband’s responsibility to store son’s gun